Previously on The Walking Dead: the gang goes to prison!
You have to admire the writers of Episode 2 – they certainly deliver on the promise of the episode’s title, gore-wise. But they’re also going for deeper meaning here; if last week’s season premiere showed us just how good Rick’s merry band have become at killing, tonight’s shows us the price they’re paying for becoming such hardasses. Put another way, if you’re perfectly fine with offing some poor schmuck by locking him in a pen full of zombies, you’re probably a couple tacos short of a number #3 Combo Plate.
The action starts right where it left off last week; Hershel and his stump are making quite a splash with the residents of the prison. Rick and his crew are in no mood to make new friends; they’ve spent a lot of time and effort making a safe haven for themselves in their new cell block, and they and their guns will be staying, thank you very much. What were they doing in the cafeteria? Apparently waiting for the rescue squad to show up. How long were they there? 10 months, with no contact with the outside world. The convicts figure out pretty quickly that there’s not much waiting for them outside the prison walls; they’d rather get busy livin’ than get busy undyin’, so Tomas, the Michael Bolton-haired leader, agrees to Rick’s offer – Rick, Daryl and T-Dog will help the convicts clear out another cell block in return for half the food in the cafeteria’s pantry.
Rick’s got 99 problems, but a strong moral compass doesn’t appear to be one. Hershel, incredibly, is neither dead not undead; he will be soon, though, unless the gang can get some medical supplies from the infirmary. But Rick doesn’t appear to make rushing off to get Hershel some aid much of a priority; instead, he tells Glenn to handcuff him to the bed and be ready to shoot him in the head if he dies and turns. And the convicts – well, they ARE convicts, and Rick is not at all ready to let them join his group. “What are your options?,” Lori asks him. “Kill ‘em,” says Rick. “Well,” says Lori. “If you think that’s best. Just try not to do it in front of Carl. It’ll ruin Christmas!” And when it turns out that the cafeteria is stocked with canned food and dried goods, Rick makes it very clear to Tomas (who talks a lot of shit for a guy with Michael Bolton hair) that he WILL be taking the half the food.
The “B” story of the episode is Hershel and his bloody stump, neither of whom do a whole lot, other than bleed. Fortunately, we don’t get many scenes of the gang weeping over Hershel’s all-but-inevitable demise; unfortunately, the one we do get features Maggie, who might just steal this year’s Emmy for Best Ugly Crier from Claire Danes. Another change: Carol now seems to have upped her game, as she’s taken the lead in managing Hershel’s care. She’s thinking ahead: if Hershel dies, they’re going to need someone to serve as medic, and she’s now learning on the job. Carl’s also becoming quite the young man; yes, he wanders off again, but this time it’s to find the infirmary – he returns with a bag full of medical supplies. Lori is not happy, and Carl is upset that she’s upset. “But Mom! I killed two walkers! Why won’t you love me?” Beth points out to Carl that he’s still a kid and he can’t talk like that to his mother. I point out to Beth that Carl has a gun. Check and mate.
Meanwhile, there’s a cell block to clear. The noobs need a crash course in zombie killing, so Rick, Daryl and T-Dog do their best: don’t shoot as the noise attracts other Walkers, stay together in tight formation, and go for the brains, because that’s the only thing that kills them. The convicts listen about as well as you’d expect, and immediately the scrawny redneck guy shoots up to the top of my “Walking Dead Pool.” Once the lesson is over, they go wandering off in search of walkers to kill, and wouldn’t you know, they find some. And guess what – the convicts immediately break ranks, charge the walkers, and manage to hit them all at least six dozen times without hitting one in the head, which takes a special kind of skill, one supposes. The look on Rick, T-Dog and Daryl’s faces says it all: “This must be Stupid Jail, and these guys? Lifers.” Alas, Big Tiny has been bitten, and although he insists it’s merely a flesh wound, Rick knows that the outcome is inevitable. Big Tiny and the other inmates disagree, saying that he feels fine, he feels happy, he’s not quite dead yet. Tomas disagrees with the other inmates, and smashes Big Tiny’s head in. And smashes. And smashes. I get up to grab a Coke and some pretzels, throw some laundry in the dryer, and check on my sleeping kids, and when I return, Tomas is still smashing. Finally, when there is no more of Big Tiny’s head left to smash, the group moves on.
Carol, meanwhile, is perhaps overthinking her role as Hershel’s replacement; she asks Glenn to join her on a walk around the perimeter, where she informs him that she needs to prepare herself for a worse-case scenario with Lori’s birth. “Worse-case scenario?,” Glenn asks. “Like the baby inheriting Lori’s personality?” Well, yes, but more immediately: what if Lori has to have a C-section? Carol needs to practice, and what better way to do that than on a walker. They pick out a good candidate, skewer her head with a piece of Rebar, and Carol starts in on the Z-section. (Hey-oh!) With someone in the trees watching her. Anybody wanna guess who that might be? As for Hershel, while Lori and Maggie look on, he appears to draw his last breath. Lori bends over to give him CPR, apparently forgetting that when people die they turn into zombies and, you know, eat living people. So when Hershel of course wakes up and wraps his arms around Lori’s head, America does not so much breath a sigh of relief as they soil their collective drawers.
Back inside, Rick’s team arrives at a pair of locked double doors, from behind which loud zombie moans can be heard. Rick tells Tomas to open one door and one door only, to control the flow of walkers into the room and enable the guys to pick them off one by one. This makes perfect sense, which is why Tomas flings both doors wide open. The zombies bum rush the room, and in the ensuing melee, Tomas shoves a live one right at Rick. After the group dispatches the walkers, Rick calmly confronts Tomas. “Hey, man, it was coming at me,” says Tomas. Rick understands, and then calmly buries his machete in Tomas’ head. Needless to say, this does not sit well with the other prisoners; one of them (Googles guy’s name), Andrew, takes off running down a dark corridor, and for some reason Rick goes after him. Andrew manages to run right into an open courtyard filled with walkers; Rick shuts the door, locks Andrew in, and that’s that. Pretty cold. The remaining two prisoners, Axel and Oscar, fare better: Rick, Daryl and T-Dog leave them to their cell block. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing more of them in future episodes.
And then we close on a decidedly bittersweet note. Hershel seems to be out of the woods, and Rick’s relieved – sorta. Because now he’s got another problem: how to deal with a guy who won’t be doing windsprints any time soon. Good thing they’re called “walkers”. Rick is definitely struggling to hold on to the decent guy he was before the dead start walking. He and Lori have a quiet moment, and it seems for a moment that the two of them are going to try to address the many issues that are plaguing them (apart from, you know, their mutual zombie problem). But that moment is fleeting. After Lori opens up to him, all Rick can muster is “We’re all grateful for what you did.” Blunt, even harsh, and the best indicator yet that Rick is a changed man, and not for the better.